I had an appointment today that took me partway to Amsterdam, and decided to use the opportunity to go the rest of the way. I spent a couple hours working via my laptop at Two for Joy, and when I couldn’t stand not having lunch any more (Note: they have lunch. I was holding out.), I walked to the Westergasfabriek.
Earlier this week, my ears perked up when my husband’s officemate mentioned some sort of food festival in Amsterdam: Rollende Keukens (Rolling Kitchens). Four days. 13:00-23:00. A field full of gourmet-ish food trucks.
Arriving for a late lunch at 14:00, I was very happy and extremely hungry. A sea of food trucks sprawled before me: Converted VW buses. Campers. Airstream-type things. I couldn’t decide which way to walk first; nearly every stand made me curious. In mid-afternoon, there were people around, but it wasn’t very busy. I had a strong hunch this wouldn’t be the case in the evening.
I caved first at a colorful stall called Dirty Duck, advertising several different duck delicacies. I had the kerrie, a little paper boat of rice, pickle, and tasty duck curry. I only made it about ten feet farther before stopping a second time, for patatas bravas at a strange wooden truck called De Pieper Mobiel (which Google translates to “The Beeper Mobile”?). The duck curry had been good, but these potatoes were delicious. When the woman ladled the gooey sauce on them, I thought: Oh, I will never eat all that. I cleaned the bowl, and I tasted those potatoes all afternoon (in a good way).
I wandered around a little longer but was 1. full (the downside of being small) 2. concerned about the ambitious agenda I’d set for my day in the city, which included popping in to the Rijksmuseum. That adventure follows later. For now, let’s just say I returned to Rollende Keukens at 18:00, ready to eat some more.
It was obvious as I neared the park that for dinner, Rollende Keukens was going to be much busier. Groups of bikes and pedestrians were all drifting that way, clogging the crossings. Chairs and picnic tables that had been sparse at lunch were now packed. Live bands were playing on several stages. I walked in a different direction, and bought a vegetarian pita gyro. The stand advertised it as lekkere; the older guy in charge looked like he was Mediterranean and meant business; and the gyro was fantastic. Messy—but fantastic. (This was my favorite thing that I ate.)
I wished I had friends along—this was a perfect group activity. I also admired the vibrant cacophony of style. Not only were the individual vendors aesthetically different, they had each brought their own tables and chairs—everything from hay bales to beanbags to traditional picnic benches. The only downside (other than not having a bottomless stomach) was the weather. Today was chilly, cloudy, and very windy. Periodically I would have to turn my head as dust blew in my face (or food).
I was next drawn by the Gastrovan. Their chalkboard menu advertised homemade ginger ale with lime and mint. My eyes must have lit up when I read it, because the friendly guy started right up a conversation with me and I decided to order. While he made the drink, I may have misheard him, but if not he was telling me something about the soul of ginger. After that (this part I know is right), he told me how he and his friends spent six months in the van, driving around the Netherlands, France, and Spain, seeking great recipes and learning to cook. It turned out they were three young guys from Delft. He told me they have a cookbook coming out later this summer, chronicling their adventures.
The ginger ale was, in fact, delicious… but at €3 / glass, I thought the portions could have been a bit more generous. (Be warned: a food festival like this is a place where you can go through more money than you’re realizing, as most things seemed to be priced €4/5/6. It doesn’t seem like much… until you eat five things.) The Gastrovan guy told me that so far the day had been very slow for them—Thursday (Hemelvaart, a holiday here) had been so busy, they sold out of food and closed early. (“Today,” he told me, “I took a nap in the van.”)
I got on the train smelling like (wood) smoke—which was lovely. And in between having both lunch and dinner at the festival, I visited the Rijksmuseum.
The Rijksmuseum is one of Amsterdam’s top museums, with a substantial collection of Dutch Masters. Until this April, it had been closed or partially open for ten years while the building underwent a modernization and renovation. The buzz around the reopening was that the re-envisioned space was beautiful (and they have famous art, too). To be honest, the Dutch Golden Age isn’t my favorite period in art history (I prefer the van Gogh Museum down the street). But I was curious about the Rijksmuseum in all its redesigned glory.
I knew it was likely the museum would be crowded today. But as I have a Museumkaart (which is a fantastic investment—easily pays for itself in a year), I didn’t expect to wait in a queue. Following the late lunch, I hopped the 3 tram to Museumplein. It was 15:30 when I arrived, and I knew the museum closes at 17:00, but since I wasn’t going to be paying €15, that was fine with me.
Then I met a massive queue, nearly reaching the IAmsterdam letters. One unfortunate and kind girl was directing traffic, and it was hard not to be annoyed when she told me that Museumkaart holders also had to wait in this line, in this instance—because the museum was at capacity, and they could only let people in as people exited. “Thirty minutes,” she assured me. I walked in the door at 16:15, and only because a lot of people in front of me bailed, probably deciding the massive entrance fee wasn’t worth it for less than an hour.
Please hang on while I rant: I am not a fan of overcrowded museums. I nearly had a panic attack in the Vatican. The Louvre was quite peaceful in the “less popular” galleries, but mobbed wherever one of the “top ten” pieces was displayed. If someone tells you the Rijksmuseum is at capacity—you can be certain they mean it.
It is so hard to enjoy a piece of art, especially a relatively small one like the Mona Lisa (Louvre) or Vermeer’s Milkmaid (Rijksmuseum) while you are packed in, getting shoved by dozens of people, being reminded by signs (Louvre) to watch your wallet because pickpockets target these spots, and–for the love–having every visitor older than age seven holding up their cell phone / fancy camera / camera to take a photo of the painting.
I seriously, seriously prefer when photography is disallowed inside museums. Take away that distraction and I will gladly buy a postcard of the painting I admire. Both the Louvre and the Rijksmuseum allow photography, which honestly surprises me. The Rijksmuseum didn’t even seem to be actively preventing flash photography. I waited patiently to get before The Milkmaid, only to have people reaching all around my face holding out their iPhones to snap a picture.
In a word: NO.
Still [end rant], at 16:15 I was inside.
So. You’re in the Rijksmuseum. You’ve only got 45 minutes until closing. You grab a map. The place is huge. What do you make a beeline to see? Vermeer? Rembrandt? van Gogh?
Obviously, the library.
I wanted to see this library, and it didn’t disappoint. Quiet and dignified but not stuffy, exuding that mysterious unread-old-texts appeal, including the fancifully obligatory spiral staircase and multi-tiered bookcases rising to the ceiling. A few students were scattered at the tables working, and a friendly staff member answered a couple of my questions. (Yes, you can request to read the collection inside the library, catalogue online.) It was around this time that I decided to renew my Museumkaart for next year.
Satisfied and still with some time remaining, I went to see van Gogh (priority no. 2) (phone-camera hotspot) and then Vermeer (ditto). I wandered through a few rooms stopping briefly at things that caught my eye. My initial impression was that the renovation is lovely—I’d like to return on a very dull Tuesday morning… if there is such a thing.